What Is A Bestselling Author?

What Is A Bestselling Author?

“By Bestselling Author…”

Twitter is flooded with tweets from hundreds (maybe even thousands) of authors advertising their latest work via these three words.

We think they think that it has the same impact on readers as the deep booming voice in the movie theatre saying, “From critically acclaimed” whatever. From the depths of the narrator’s voice come three words that make heads snap forward and minds say, “Oo! It must be good.” Bonus points if they know the name mentioned and have loved their previous work.

It’s marketing at its finest. But before you slap the “bestselling” label on yourself as an author, stop and think. Does it really apply, and can you prove it? Because if it doesn’t and you can’t, then you’re going to find yourself smack in the middle of this dilemma:

A Simple Definition of “Bestseller”

All right, people. Here we go.

According to Wikipedia, “A bestseller is a book that is included on a list of top-selling or frequently-borrowed titles, normally based on publishing industry and book trade figures and library circulation statistics; such lists may be published by newspapers, magazines, or book store chains.”

Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary goes on to clarify that “if an author has hit a bestseller list, they can legitimately call themselves a bestselling author.”

So, if your book has landed on a bestseller list, the term “bestselling author” applies to you and you can prove it. The lists include:

  • The New York Times
  • The LA Times
  • USA Today
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Denver Post
  • CBA
  • ECPA
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • And any other official bestseller lists

“Bestsellers” On Amazon

Amazon is the biggest indie author publishing platform. It’s the one almost every first time author targets because everybody has a Kindle. And if someone doesn’t have a Kindle tablet, then they have a device capable of running the Kindle app.

As Chip MacGregor points out, “The problem…is that authors will rise up the Amazon sales ranking, notice they’re in the top five or ten in their sub-category, and suddenly start telling everyone they’ve become a superstar.”

THIS is why Twitter is flooded with “bestselling” authors. The flaw lies with Amazon AND inexperienced self-publishing authors.

Amazon segments their categories so much that Joe Shmoe who wrote the worst book ever makes it to the top twenty in his sub-category. Is he technically a bestselling author? Yes, in his specific little niche of a sub category. Does the world consider him a bestseller? Well, you read two pages of grammatical Armageddon and typo hell with a cover or tweet that says, “From bestselling author…” and tell us how you feel about that bestseller.

Avoiding Audience Alienation

Let’s discuss another definition; that of the word “alienate.”

Per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the simple definition of alienate is “to make (someone) unfriendly: to cause (someone) to stop being friendly, helpful, etc., towards you.”

In other words, there is no better way to make enemies and cultivate upheaval than by alienating a person or group of people.

Apply this to an audience of readers who know how to use social media, write reviews, and comment, and you’re staring down the barrel of a sawed off double barrel shotgun. For the love of Pete (whoever he is), do not instigate the holder into pulling the trigger!

Just because you can technically call yourself a “bestselling author” doesn’t mean that you should, which begs the question…

When Should You Use “Bestselling”?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

Some authors are devout believers in the almightiness of The New York Times and USA Today. If you don’t make it onto one of the established and traditional lists, you are not a bestselling author and do not deserve to wear the crown. If you do, expect backlash.

Others feel that reaching the top ten of any list in any category automatically results in bragging rights. What better way to sum that up than by dawning the bestseller crown and strolling through the masses with head held high?

But there’s a thing to consider. It’s called common sense.

Anyone can be a writer of stuff. Not everyone can be an author, and there is (in many circles) a great distinction between writers and authors.

Anyone can technically become an indie author, and they can just as easily earn enough book sales to place in the top whatever of whatever categories they inhabit on Amazon. We all just want to be loved!

However, slapping “bestselling” in front of “author” can quickly be like running into your sibling’s room to shout, “Mom likes ME best!” It’s not going to win you any favors, and it’s really going to make you seem like…well…an ass.

According to Whitney Dineen, “Some believe that Indie authors are the big reason…the title no longer means anything.”

So listen, do yourself (and the rest of us) a ginormous favor and only use the term “bestselling” when you’ve truly accomplished something great.

In other words, self-published and traditionally published authors work long and hard to be accepted into the mainstream. They trudge through the depths of self-doubting hell to make it onto those encompassing lists, and they deserve the sweet satisfaction of victorious recognition. They earn the crown in all its awesome glory.

Don’t be the half-ass-er in the room who sneaks in under a mini-win to hang with the big dogs. They will not appreciate you, and neither will your readers when they stack your work against the top ten New York Times Bestsellers only to be heartbreakingly disappointed because THAT’S what they will do.

Alienate readers, and before you know it, you’ll have a whole compound of haters. Now, haters can be good because they cause a ruckus and guide new readers your way; readers who want to see what the hubbub is about, read your book, and find the gem in the rough the haters totally missed or misunderstood. Here’s an epic example from Chuck Wendig’s blog:


If you expect this to happen, you better have a book worthy of becoming a true bestseller.

In Conclusion…

…it’s really your choice. If you can prove your right to the bestseller crown, then you can wear it. But before you do…

Henry V by William Shakespeare is a play set in fifteenth century England. It’s fantastic, and there’s one plot twist we want you to contemplate:

The night before what would be the great climax to the war between the English and the French; King Henry disguises himself as a common soldier. He mingles among the soldiers in his camp to learn who they are and what they think of the great battle.

Had he not done this, it is arguable whether the following morning would have begun with his famously inspiring speech, which spurred an army that next won this pivotal battle, ultimately leading to peace negotiations and the uniting of Britain and France.

Henry V chose to remove the crown and mingle amongst the masses. The result speaks for itself.

Before you dawn and strut about with the bestseller crown, possibly inciting a rebellion of upset readers to throw their rotten cabbages at your sub-category title, consider whether leaving it off could better suit your purposes and lead to more brilliant work.

It all comes down to common sense. After all, the audience will be the first to call foul should your claim to the crown be less than royal.

Don’t be a wielder of an overused and technically correct marketing ploy. Be the proud recipient of the real, hard won McCoy.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss!

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